The real basketball season begins Tuesday, as MSU will pariticpate in its second-ever No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup (the other being the 1999 Final Four). MSU plays Kentucky in the third annual Champions Classic. MSU lost to Duke in NYC in 2011 and defeated Kansas last season.
1. Kentucky is always a hard team to get a idea about, because there are so many first-year players. We've heard about the recruiting class that could end up being the best ever, but who are expected to be the go-to-guys this year?
I think, though, that Randle will be the top scoring threat most of the time. He is 6'9" and 250 pounds, and is as agile as a 6'3" guy with the ball in his hands. He's a dominating rebounder and just a pure nightmare to defend.
2. How much of a surprise was last season? Does it give Kentucky fans any caution when doing things like making 40-0 shirts? Or do you view it as a blip on the radar?
A pretty big one, although we should have seen it coming. Calipari was unable to recruit any shooters, and wound up with a team where only one guy could get his own shot, and he couldn't shoot anything but a layup. That's a recipe for disaster, and in retrospect, we should have known that.
Some Kentucky fans are crazy like that, speaking of 40-0 t-shirts. Most of us are too familiar with the game of college basketball to place any real hope in such an unlikely occurrence. Most Kentucky fans only care about winning the last game of the season, and a whole lot less about a given one in between.
There are some fans who internalized last year as a repudiation of Calipari's system, but that is folly. It was more than a blip on the radar, though, as it caused Coach Cal to rethink his entire recruiting process, but only from the standpoint of recruiting MORE players, even if some of them aren't quite good enough to be "one-and-done."
3. What is the view of Tom Izzo among UK fans? Cal has obviously won more than his fair share of recruiting battles, and some could view the two on complete opposite ends of the coaching spectrum.
Most Kentucky fans think the world of Tom Izzo, not only because of how he coaches but because of what a classy guy he is. He is a fine basketball coach and a great teacher of the game.
I don't think Izzo and Calipari recruit on opposite ends of the spectrum, I think Izzo prefers players who he can have longer to teach his style. That's just a difference in philosophy with Calipari, who cares more about talent than getting that extra time, and the higher talent is necessarily less likely to hang around multiple years in today's environment.
4. What's the one matchup you're looking forward to the most in this game?
Whoever is going to try to guard Julius Randle. Michigan St. doesn't have an obvious player to guard Randle, as Matt Costello would be severely hamstrung by Randle's quickness, and Adreian Payne may have a size advantage, but would struggle to guard Randle on the floor. Plus, it would take him away from the basket where he needs to be.
I suspect Izzo has something special in mind, because he can't fail to know that Randle is averaging a double-double and is just a load inside. Traps or double-teams? We'll see.
5. Score prediction and why?
I think Kentucky wins a squeaker, by about 75-70. I don't have a lot of confidence in this prediction, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Michigan St. won by a similar score. This early in the season, UK teams are most vulnerable to talented, experienced teams like the Spartans. If this game were in March, and a rematch may well happen, I would feel much better about my prediction.
This is a game Kentucky fans want to win, of course, but I think most of the Big Blue Nation would not be too upset over a loss. Michigan St. is deserving of their ranking, and so is Kentucky, but perhaps not quite as much. The last time we were in this situation was 2011-12, and that Kentucky team beat a Kansas squad it would later defeat for the NCAA Tournament championship. The question, really, is can this year's version live up to the standard set by Anthony Davis et. al., or will it take them a bit longer?
We'll see on Tuesday.
Thanks again to Glenn. Check out A Sea Of Blue for all things Kentucky.